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The Problem of H for Handwashing by Unilever & Lowe Lintas

Handwashing is an important hygiene activity and other is no denying it. But does it have to be H for handwashing as the first lesson for toddlers? I say No. The first lesson has to be H for Hands and not H for Hand Washing. But Why? Let’s understand it in this conversation.

When you introduce the first book of the alphabet to your 2-3-year-old toddler, it has to be the introduction to absolute basics. When I say basics, I mean the words they can be expected to learn mustn’t exceed 4-5 letters. Exceeding this count is pressurizing the child when their brain is not fully developed.

Now, think of Unilever launching H for handwashing campaign to replace H for Hands, Hippo, Hut, or Hen to H for H A N D W A S  H I N G! 11 letters! More than that introducing a verb to replace an essential noun? When will kids learn about Hands, Hippo, Hut, or Hen if not as their first lesson in the alphabet book? Oh, you might think that this alone cannot damage your child, but then how about this leading other brands to follow suit?

If H is for handwashing, why not A for antidepressants or B for bisexuals, or C for Cannabis? Much like how Unilever argues H for handwashing is helpful as the first lesson, a big pharma company will lobby with the UN and governments to introduce A for antidepressants or B for Benzodepine or C for Cannabis or the gender rights activists will ask for including a glossary of gender identification. I am against none of these but there is age appropriateness. These cannot be the first lesson for any child no matter how inherently talented they are.

Unilever is an FMCG giant with global eminence. It spends a lot on marketing and philanthropy. It funds campaigns for human progress. But this one ad that they spent millions on through ad agency Lintas Lowe is absolutely horrifying. It is leading by example for other brand conglomerates to join in.

Roberta M. Golinkoff, Ph.D. is a Professor who wrote 16 books on/for children. She already seems to be someone careless about advocating for this change. This helps us understand that PhDs need not be intelligent. She is citing the flus of the world when hand sanitizers didn’t become a norm and they used soaps. Particularly in this case where Roberta M. Golinkoff cannot prove this move to replace the “fundamental” vocabulary with something utterly heavy so that the market can seek more Unilever products and position itself as a brand for other brands selling soaps.

  1. Only 5% of the adult population washes their hands. Really? Where did ABC News Prime get this data from? The UN?
  2. Where did the UN get this data from?
  3. How is this percentage concluded?
  4. What is the size of the survey and which countries are involved?
  5. Did this observation of a dip in handwashing happen during Covid when people moved to hand sanitizers?
  6. And even if it is a sizeable survey, how was it determined how they washed their hands?
  7. And adults who have to be taught the lesson of handwashing are ignoring this population to teach kids for perennial returns?
  8. Is this a move by the smart alecs at Unilever to reintroduce the soap (liquid or bar) market?
  9. The UN is so poor that for charitable donations it can certify any corporate intent as legit.
  10. And news media? Sold for soul.

The video begins with the line, “There is one lesson that the world keeps forgetting…” I complete this by saying that the world keeps forgetting that there is an age for everything. We have commercialized all the needs and wants of early childhood. We must spare manipulating the early childhood syllabus. This is absolutely horrendous. Unilever is trying to project it as an ad for social impact whereas it deserves the Cannes for Social Damage.

A version of this article first appeared on Twitter

Linda Ashok

Linda Ashok is an India English Poet & Polymath. She is a mental health advocate studying Psychology from IGNOU'25.